Katie Koehn has been married 61 years and 27 days, and she's still full of love and laughter.
In the courtyard of Normanna rest home, decorated in nuptial puffs of pink tissue paper, Katie tells her story to a crowd of senior residents, family and friends as one of five couples renewing their marriage vows.
Katie, who I'm told was stunningly beautiful in her youth, was only 17 when she met her husband John Koehn. Katie had come to Canada as refugee from Germany in 1948. She heard of a young man who helped refugees get a car, learn languages and find work.
When she arrived in Canada, she received a startling call from John, her husband-to-be.
"Oh, it was a male's voice," she says. "I felt very uneasy about it."
Not used to attention from men, Katie was discomfited. But the next day, she celebrated her 17th birthday with relatives, and John was there.
"Here he was, my prince to be - tall, dark and handsome," she says. "He looked at me and winked at me! What a man."
Katie went to church after, and John, who was clearly smitten, kept his eye on her.
"Oh my goodness, I just wanted to get rid of him because I blushed to the top of my head," she says.
John offered Katie a ride; she accepted but escaped as fast as she could once church was out and ran to the bus stop.
And there was John.
"Didn't you want to have a ride with me?" he asked. She accepted, and twoand-a-half years later, they were married. Katie, a deeply religious woman, metaphorically likens her marriage to a red, white and blue sailboat - red for love, white for purity and blue for faithfulness. Jesus was the captain, and the Bible was their compass.
After they renewed their vows, Katie spoke about what kept them together all these decades. They both shared the same faith, and Katie always looked up to John.
"I always revered my husband. I always honoured him," she says, "because he was a man of honour. He was quiet, kind and loving."
But surely there were challenges. Marriage is not always easy.
"Oh, it was wonderful," Katie says.
"He was a strong leader, my husband."
The couple also spent family time together with their five kids.
"There was a love together," she says. "I would say this: a family that prays together, plays together, stays together."
Katie still lives at home, but John resides at Normanna, and she visits every day, sometimes for more than 10 hours. From a supine position in his wheelchair, John shares his memories on what he first thought of his wife: "Best in the West," he says, with unwavering eyes fixed on Katie.
When asked what made his marriage last all these years, he quietly tears up and says: "We loved each other."
James Traill and his wife Pleasance are another steadfast couple whose marriage started 45 years ago.
"I went to the Legion - the Canadian Legion - and she was there," James says, rather matter of factly. "She told me not to forget her phone number, so on a Sunday, I phoned her up."
John was in his 30s and previously married. Pleasance became his new wife a few months later.
"I wasn't going to lose her after that. We're quite compatible," he says. Part of their secret to success was doing everything together. The two built a sailboat and sailed to Mexico.
"I (don't) go my way, and she goes her way," John says. "You do everything together."
When asked for her opinion, Pleasance said she does a lot of crying.
"She gets emotional," John interjects. Now both in their 80s, Pleasance lives at Normanna, and James comes to visit.
These are only two of the five couple who renewed their vows as part of Normanna's wedding week. Marija and Joseph Uzelac, both Normanna residents, have been married 54 years. Barbara and Donald Quesnel have been married 30 years, and Raymond and Elma Mikk have been at each other's side for 57 years.
Gloria Lee from Brentwood Counselling Centre in Burnaby has been helping couples for 17 years.
Lee says there are many elements to a lasting relationship, like shared values, compatibility and similar likes, hobbies and interests.
But investing 100 per cent in your relationship, instead of only 50, is also important.
"(In) the 50-50 model, people are: If I do my part, you'll do your part," she says. "It doesn't work because those people are waiting for the others to do something."
Another key is couples who last always look for the positive in each other.
"Over time, we have a tendency to be familiar with each other. - It's easier for us to focus on the negative," she says. It's essential that couples put in an effort to intentionally seek out the positive in each other.
Lee also encouraged people to have a vision for their marriage.
"Like every good business has a mission statement, likewise in a marriage. It's very effective when both people have a vision," she says.
That could mean looking ahead five or 10 years and figuring out what you want together and working towards that as a team. The vision is not meant to be a list of things to accumulate together - children, a boat or a house, for instance.
"That's all great and important, but that's not what keeps a marriage together," Lee says.
Partners need a clear picture of who they want to be in the world, as individuals and as a couple.
"It has more to do with self-development and marriage enrichment," she says.
Trust comes when there is lots forgiveness, Lee adds.
"I think forgiveness and grace are two key things. That's how trust builds. Most people hold onto past grievances, and the grievances build, and trust diminishes over time," she says.
It's also important to keep the spark alive by planning dates with each other and putting the laughter and fun back in the marriage throughout the different stages.
"Relationships can become stale, and the spark, the intentionality of putting the laughter and fun back into the marriage is so important," Lee says.
The No. 1 thing Lee notices when partners cheat is the marriage was just mediocre and the person who strays is looking for a new spark, some excitement, something that makes them feel alive. But keeping the spark alive helps strengthen fidelity.
"It's gives your spouse no reason to look outside," Lee says.
Self-awareness is another part of lasting relationships. "When they know themselves well, their needs, their wants, their strengths, their weaknesses, they are able to understand who they are in the marriage and what they have to give," she says.
People tend to have a list of all these things they want in a person, without considering their own qualities or deficiencies.
"When people get married, they feel that this person will make me feel whole. I'm arguing we need to feel whole first," Lee says. "Wholeness does not imply perfection, it implies I know myself and like myself and know I have something positive to offer, that I will breathe life into the marriage instead of death."
Lee says there is hope for those stuck in the same cycles if they seek outside help, and some couples who are already doing well visit her once a year just to keep their marriage on track.
"I've worked with couples who have gone through really, really hard things together. If both (people) are willing to put in the effort, I believe any relationship is salvageable."